Hand-Picked Napa
  WELCOME TO VineCam   The lifecycle of a vine from dormancy to harvest is amazing both from a feat of nature and the care given by vintners.  We thought it would be great to choose a single vine in 2017 and follow it through the entire growth cycle from bud break to crush.  A huge thank you to Blair Guthrie, winemaker at Stewart Cellars, for allowing us access all season long and sharing the process with us.  

WELCOME TO VineCam

The lifecycle of a vine from dormancy to harvest is amazing both from a feat of nature and the care given by vintners.  We thought it would be great to choose a single vine in 2017 and follow it through the entire growth cycle from bud break to crush.  A huge thank you to Blair Guthrie, winemaker at Stewart Cellars, for allowing us access all season long and sharing the process with us.  

  Stewart Cellars Max Vineyard   Nestled on the Valley floor off of Silverado trail, Max Vineyard is fairly flat and open providing a great vista for our VineCam.

Stewart Cellars Max Vineyard

Nestled on the Valley floor off of Silverado trail, Max Vineyard is fairly flat and open providing a great vista for our VineCam.

  Meet "MAX" the specific vine we'll follow for season 2017    We had acres to choose from but MAX called to us with its shapely trunk and curving cordons.   

Meet "MAX" the specific vine we'll follow for season 2017

We had acres to choose from but MAX called to us with its shapely trunk and curving cordons.   

 
  PHASE 1: BUD BREAK // APR 22   Bud Break is the first major step in the growing cycle of a vine. Depending on weather and winter rainfall, leaves will begin to appear in March and most fully in April.  This year we're seeing buds break all over MAX, not just the spurs due to the incredibly rainy winter (thankfully).  The ancillary shoots we'll be picked off, so only the canes growing upward have foliage.  Also, the late rains present a higher mold risk which necessitates extra care and monitoring until the sun is out full-time.  

PHASE 1: BUD BREAK // APR 22

Bud Break is the first major step in the growing cycle of a vine. Depending on weather and winter rainfall, leaves will begin to appear in March and most fully in April.  This year we're seeing buds break all over MAX, not just the spurs due to the incredibly rainy winter (thankfully).  The ancillary shoots we'll be picked off, so only the canes growing upward have foliage.  Also, the late rains present a higher mold risk which necessitates extra care and monitoring until the sun is out full-time.  

  Emerging clusters in the making   What you're looking at here is the very beginning of what will become clusters of grapes after flowering and fruit set occurs.  Stay tuned in for the whole process!   

Emerging clusters in the making

What you're looking at here is the very beginning of what will become clusters of grapes after flowering and fruit set occurs.  Stay tuned in for the whole process!

 

 
  PHASE 2: FLOWERING // MAY 04   Hard to believe it's only been a few weeks since shoots were pushing through the cordons and now we have some already reaching the first trellis wire with dense foliage throughout - simply amazing!  

PHASE 2: FLOWERING // MAY 04

Hard to believe it's only been a few weeks since shoots were pushing through the cordons and now we have some already reaching the first trellis wire with dense foliage throughout - simply amazing!  

  Pre-bloom clusters abound   Here's a close-up of the clusters which total about 24 on the vine, 2 per shoot. With a mini heatwave last week, these clusters should start blooming within the next week or so which will then lead to fruit set of the actual grapes.  We'll have more pics soon as bloom occurs. 

Pre-bloom clusters abound

Here's a close-up of the clusters which total about 24 on the vine, 2 per shoot. With a mini heatwave last week, these clusters should start blooming within the next week or so which will then lead to fruit set of the actual grapes.  We'll have more pics soon as bloom occurs. 

 
  PHASE 3: BLOOM // MAY 27   The vines have hit one of the most critical and fragile phases of the growth process. The tight clusters seen during Flowering have now opened to self-pollinate and create fruit (note, the cordons have now reached the top trellis wire).   

PHASE 3: BLOOM // MAY 27

The vines have hit one of the most critical and fragile phases of the growth process. The tight clusters seen during Flowering have now opened to self-pollinate and create fruit (note, the cordons have now reached the top trellis wire).   

  Clusters in full bloom   Here we have a close-up of each flower pod where the pistil (green base) and the stamens have extended out. There is no need for insects to pollinate BUT if there were high winds or heavy rains, these arrays could be damaged resulting in what they call "shatter".  This happened in 2015 and harvests were reduced by 30-60% because clusters were full of little green berries instead of grapes. Next step, fruit set!

Clusters in full bloom

Here we have a close-up of each flower pod where the pistil (green base) and the stamens have extended out. There is no need for insects to pollinate BUT if there were high winds or heavy rains, these arrays could be damaged resulting in what they call "shatter".  This happened in 2015 and harvests were reduced by 30-60% because clusters were full of little green berries instead of grapes. Next step, fruit set!

 
  PHASE 4: FRUIT SET // JUN 28   Our vine MAX has been growing wonderfully, filling in through the trellis and supporting a host of vibrant clusters.   Thankfully we dodged a bullet, as there was a freak wind and rain storm that came through the valley that could have resulted in shatter but fortunately just about all the fruit set was complete.  

PHASE 4: FRUIT SET // JUN 28

Our vine MAX has been growing wonderfully, filling in through the trellis and supporting a host of vibrant clusters.   Thankfully we dodged a bullet, as there was a freak wind and rain storm that came through the valley that could have resulted in shatter but fortunately just about all the fruit set was complete.  

  Got grapes?!   Finally, the vines have what everyone has been waiting for - actual grapes! As mentioned, this is a huge milestone in avoiding shatter and getting a full crop to work with over the coming months.  From here we'll see veraison next where the grapes actually ripen and turn red (these are Cabernet). As part of this process the canopy will be managed based on heat, so Blair will decide whether to thin the leaves a bit if cooler than normal temps preside and more ripening is desired.  

Got grapes?!

Finally, the vines have what everyone has been waiting for - actual grapes! As mentioned, this is a huge milestone in avoiding shatter and getting a full crop to work with over the coming months.  From here we'll see veraison next where the grapes actually ripen and turn red (these are Cabernet). As part of this process the canopy will be managed based on heat, so Blair will decide whether to thin the leaves a bit if cooler than normal temps preside and more ripening is desired.  

 
  PHASE 5: VERAISON // AUG 02   MAX is finally getting to what people recognize most, those beautiful clusters of red grapes. Once fruit set is complete, it doesn't take long for the hot Napa sun to get bursts of color popping across the Valley.  What's even more amazing is the variations in size and color depending on the red varietal (we'll try to capture that during harvest).    

PHASE 5: VERAISON // AUG 02

MAX is finally getting to what people recognize most, those beautiful clusters of red grapes. Once fruit set is complete, it doesn't take long for the hot Napa sun to get bursts of color popping across the Valley.  What's even more amazing is the variations in size and color depending on the red varietal (we'll try to capture that during harvest).    

  Veraison in action    Again, MAX is a Cabernet vine, so we're looking at a dramatic change in color versus what one would see with white varietals.  This cluster is roughly mid-veraison with half the fruit still green.  The cluster will fully turn in color signaling the end of this phase.  Next, Blair will be managing the ripening process further by deciding on whether to trim the canopy to allow more sun on the fruit  (speed ripening) and how many clusters to drop (concentrate the vine's energy to fewer clusters for more intense fruit) as we start to approach harvest time, likely next month.  Stay tuned for it all!  

Veraison in action

Again, MAX is a Cabernet vine, so we're looking at a dramatic change in color versus what one would see with white varietals.  This cluster is roughly mid-veraison with half the fruit still green.  The cluster will fully turn in color signaling the end of this phase.  Next, Blair will be managing the ripening process further by deciding on whether to trim the canopy to allow more sun on the fruit  (speed ripening) and how many clusters to drop (concentrate the vine's energy to fewer clusters for more intense fruit) as we start to approach harvest time, likely next month.  Stay tuned for it all!  

 
  PHASE 6: HARVEST COUNTDOWN // AUG 31   If MAX was a white varietal, harvest would be done already and crush underway.  August came in like a lamb with fairly steady 85 degree days but out like a lion with a 110 degree heat wave pushing many to get their fruit off the vine before  Brix  levels spiked.  Given MAX is cab, it will likely hang most of September to fully mature and gain all the complex notes Blair is seeking. You'll also see the canopy has been trimmed back to perfect ripening and also fruit dropped a few weeks back to concentrate the vine's resources on a smaller number of clusters. Napa in general drops much more fruit than other mass producers, sometimes as much as 30%.   

PHASE 6: HARVEST COUNTDOWN // AUG 31

If MAX was a white varietal, harvest would be done already and crush underway.  August came in like a lamb with fairly steady 85 degree days but out like a lion with a 110 degree heat wave pushing many to get their fruit off the vine before Brix levels spiked.  Given MAX is cab, it will likely hang most of September to fully mature and gain all the complex notes Blair is seeking. You'll also see the canopy has been trimmed back to perfect ripening and also fruit dropped a few weeks back to concentrate the vine's resources on a smaller number of clusters. Napa in general drops much more fruit than other mass producers, sometimes as much as 30%.   

  Tick-tock as these beauties finish ripening   Blair Guthrie, Stewart winemaker, says the MAX is looking to be slightly low in yield than previous years, probably from the cold drop during the end of flowering. Though the vineyard is a lot more uniform this year, maybe it was the winter rains or maybe the lower crop.  At this stage we are still looking at picking around the first week of OCT - stay tuned! (always subject to Mother Nature)

Tick-tock as these beauties finish ripening

Blair Guthrie, Stewart winemaker, says the MAX is looking to be slightly low in yield than previous years, probably from the cold drop during the end of flowering. Though the vineyard is a lot more uniform this year, maybe it was the winter rains or maybe the lower crop.  At this stage we are still looking at picking around the first week of OCT - stay tuned! (always subject to Mother Nature)

 
  HARVEST! // SEP 29   Given the heat spikes we mentioned previously, MAX is being picked about 3 weeks earlier than normal (typically harvested mid-OCT).  Side note for those wondering why grapes are picked at night instead of the day, it's primarily because sugar levels are more stable but also the fruit is firmer due to colder temperatures, like the 55 degrees the night of this harvest.  

HARVEST! // SEP 29

Given the heat spikes we mentioned previously, MAX is being picked about 3 weeks earlier than normal (typically harvested mid-OCT).  Side note for those wondering why grapes are picked at night instead of the day, it's primarily because sugar levels are more stable but also the fruit is firmer due to colder temperatures, like the 55 degrees the night of this harvest.  

  It's showtime for these beauties    Blair Guthrie, Stewart winemaker, says the Max Vineyard will be slightly lower in yield than previous years, about 3-5%. However, the initial quality appears very promising, so we look forward to seeing how the juice stands once pressed.  From there, a great deal of finesse and care will bring it to perfection in barrel and finally the bottle!

It's showtime for these beauties

Blair Guthrie, Stewart winemaker, says the Max Vineyard will be slightly lower in yield than previous years, about 3-5%. However, the initial quality appears very promising, so we look forward to seeing how the juice stands once pressed.  From there, a great deal of finesse and care will bring it to perfection in barrel and finally the bottle!